'Check, Please! Bay Area' Presents: Range Life's Meatballs Braised in Tomato Sauce

Newly featured on Check, Please! Bay Area, Range Life's meatballs play well with pasta or as a sandwich meat for your hoagie cravings.  (Lauren Heanes-Longwell)

Tucked away in Livermore, Range Life is the culinary collaboration of four friends-turned-restaurateurs that celebrates California's seasonal bounties.  Featured on the third episode of this season's Check, Please! Bay Area, the quartet behind the two year-old restaurant share their recipe of classic meatballs in tomato sauce with KQED so you can bring Range Life to your dining table.

The restaurant also offers take-out for pick up as well as contact-free delivery within a five mile radius of their Livermore spot. The expansive take-out menu includes cocktail mixes like boozy, butterscotch-laced slow sipper Horse Whip and the Tsunami Bomb, Range Life's take on the Mai Tai.

Range Life is offering takeout cocktail mixes including this boozy, butterscotch-laced slow sipper aptly titled Horse Whip.
Range Life is offering takeout cocktail mixes with serving instructions including this boozy, butterscotch-laced slow sipper aptly titled Horse Whip.

Seeking a quieter pace from city life, Lauren Heanes-Longwell, Waine Longwell, Sarah Elliot Niles and Bill Niles found an old brick building in Livermore's Blacksmith Square as the perfect space for their endeavor.  Bill, formerly of Tartine, runs the kitchen, and Sarah is on wine and general managerial duties. Waine manages the bar program while Lauren heads all things creative at the modern-yet-rustic eatery. The following recipe from Chef Niles promises to turn mealtime into an occasion.

Beef & Pork Meatballs Braised in a Tomato Sauce

Serves 6

I wish I could say this is Mom’s or Nonna’s recipe. Instead, it is an aggregate of many different version of meatballs I have loved over the course of my life and career. Some of it is Mom’s meatballs and sauce almost every Sunday. Some of it is from my first job at Pompeo's, the family Italian restaurant on the New Jersey boardwalk. And some still is my next-favorite meatball in the world from Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco. The goal is a meatball that is tender and unctuous but holds shape after a sear or fry and a long braise in fresh tomato sauce.

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As with all good recipes, it relies on good products but remains adaptable as long as you stick to the ratio of panade to meat.

Ingredients

Meatballs

  • 2 lbs ground beef (80% lean ideally, 90% is fine)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 12 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup of olive oil
  • 2 cups stale bread
  • 1 cup burrata or ricotta
  • ½ cup yogurt
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 cup parmigiano reggiano
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted & ground
  • chili flakes

Sauce

  • Two 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Start with the sauce, since it’ll take the longest of all the processes. 1. Slice 8 cloves of garlic thinly and fry in olive oil at medium heat in a saucepan.

2. At the moment the garlic is a light golden brown, add the crushed tomatoes. Rinse the cans with a little water to get any remains off the side, about a quarter cans worth of water, and add to the pot.

3. Simmer for 30 minutes and season with salt to taste.

4. Preheat oven 350 degrees for the meatballs.

5. Confit the garlic set aside for the meatballs. We want to mellow out the garlic while adding a little more flavorful fat to the meatball mixture. To do this, separate and peel 12 large cloves of garlic and submerge in 1 cup of extra virgin oil. Over low heat, simmer garlic until tender and sweet. Remove 4 cloves along with a quarter cup of the confit oil. Reserve the remainder for other recipes or purposes.

6. Prepared the panade. Along with the egg, the panade is the binding agent for the meatballs. It's a simple term for any starch (i.e. rice, breadcrumb, crackers) mixed with liquid (think milk, soft cheese or stock) to form a paste that helps bind the meat while retaining its fat and moisture. Cut the stale bread (or fresh if that’s what you have on hand) into 1 inch cubes. Add to a bowl along with soft cheese, yogurt, garlic confit, oil from the confit and eggs. Mix with your hands to start and then add the mixture to a food processor to full combine. Blend for a minute or so until it becomes a smooth paste.

7. In a large mixing bowl combine ground beef, pork, parmesan, ground fennel seed, pinch of chili flake and panade. If you have an electric stand mixer, use the paddle attachment. If not, your hands are a suitable alternative. Get in there and mix really well. The mixture needs to be smooth and fully combined.

8. Using a scoop, a scale or your eyes, portion the meatball mixture and roll into balls. You’re looking for something about the size of a racquetball or a very large egg. Occasionally wetting your hands eases the rolling process.

9. Once all the balls are formed, sear them in a large cast iron or sauté pan until two sides of the meatballs are browned. They may be a little lopsided at this point, don’t worry about it, its charming.

10. Fit all the browned meatballs into a casserole or roasting pan as snug as you can without smooshing and cover generously in sauce.
Bake uncovered in oven for 45 minutes to an hour. If the sauce on top of the meatballs begins to brown too much for your liking, cover in foil.

11. Let the meatballs cool in the sauce, serve immediately over the pasta of your choosing with more parmesan, or fill the most authentic hoagie roll you can find and top with provolone cheese.

Check out the Check, Please! Bay Area episode featuring Range Life as well as critically-acclaimed Sichuan and Tangia cuisine at Millbrae's Royal Feast and Oakland's festive and flavorful Daughter Thai Kitchen.